All too often, people think that once something has been thrown away, it ceases to exist. A century of that “out of sight, out of mind” mentality has left our planet fighting for its life. Decades of ‘throw-away’ culture have filled our oceans with plastic waste; it’s estimated that soon they will contain a ton of plastic for every three tons of fish. Meanwhile, in the U.S. alone, greenhouse gas from landfills is responsible for well over 100 million tons of CO2 equivalent.
The challenges of weaning our economies from their harmful addiction to consumption and waste might seem insurmountable. But change is possible – and it begins in our own homes.
The first step is to embrace the circular economy, a lifestyle in which we recycle and we re-use, as opposed to ‘taking, making, and discarding’. And already there are positive signs that this new approach, supported by innovation and underpinned by industry partnerships, is taking hold and starting to flourish.
It’s now common, for example, to see soft drinks sold in 100% recycled bottles. And increasingly, toys, clothes, garden furniture, bags, skateboards and many more goods are also being made of recycled plastics. This is all welcome news but it’s only the start. Now the use of discarded rather than virgin plastic as the primary material is allowing people to opt for sustainable and circular solutions as they design their living spaces; we need to make those recycled materials a ‘must have’ feature of our homes.
As a society, we have already recognized the need for change. New regulations such as the EU Green Deal and “right to repair” laws, together with mounting consumer pressure are all driving positive change and encouraging sustainable transformation. But still barely 10% of all plastic is recycled; now we need to improve recycling infrastructure and use Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) content rather than virgin plastic.
Excitingly, this new circular economy also allows us to tackle the marine plastics pollution crisis by recycling discarded materials for a wide range of high-performance electrical applications, including switchgears, connectors, and lighting. And that is a great way to ensure that plastic is not discarded but instead finds a permanent home. Quite literally. The challenge is to ensure that these electrical components meet stringent safety and regulatory requirements. Switches and sockets for example have to comply with mechanical and electrical endurance regulations, including, in case of overload or short circuits, resistance to high temperatures.
Fortunately, thanks to recent innovations, it’s now possible and safe to re-use a wide variety of plastics in such electrical devices. Working in partnership, Schneider Electric and DSM, for example, are pioneering the use of recycled plastics made from fishing nets. Every year, approximately 640,000 tons of fishing nets are abandoned in the oceans, killing countless marine animals and damaging our precious coral reefs. To tackle these challenges, DSM has established an initiative in which these discarded fishing nets are collected, sorted, and repurposed into a new glass-fiber-reinforced, recycled-based polyamide with excellent functional properties. It’s called Akulon® RePurposed. This versatile, high-performance polyamide is used in a whole range of applications, including of course Schneider Electric’s products.
In this way, Akulon® RePurposed helps maintain litter-free beaches, healthier marine life and cleaner oceans. And crucially it also supports local livelihoods. After fishermen collect discarded fishing nets from the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and coastal corners of India, including the beaches, those nets are sorted and cleaned by local communities after which they are taken to an upcycling plant in Pune, India.
The ambition is to achieve net-zero by adopting this holistic approach throughout our homes. By increasing our use of recycled plastics, we can help make that dream of smart, sustainable living spaces a reality. Now DSM and Schneider Electric’s partnership and our ability to innovate by thinking outside the box are enabling electricians and homebuilders around the world to use environmentally friendly, cost-effective equipment made from sustainably sourced materials rather than single-use, ‘throw-away’ plastic.
And let’s be clear: this circular economy solution not only cleans up our ocean and protects our planet, it also generates income for local communities. Our passion for a sustainable environment is driving positive social impact. The waters are cleaner, the marine life is safer, and the local communities are more prosperous.
Together, we can make ‘disposable’ culture a thing of the past. We can and we must. After all, we don’t want to throw away our planet’s future.
06 December 2021
Listen to “Climate Change with Net-Zero Homes” podcast with Helen Mets and YiFu Qi to learn how Schneider and DSM have revolutionized using recycled plastic in smart technology
Executive Vice President Materials, Envalior
Helen holds a Master’s degree in Marketing and a Bachelor’s degree in Business & Finance from the University of Northumbria, Newcastle and CEDEP Fontaineblue in Paris. She is also a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Executive Leadership Program. She joined Envalior in August 2017. In her current role as Executive President of Envalior Materials, Helen Mets plays a crucial role in managing this Envalior business and its continued drive toward sustainable growth. A lifelong innovator, she has built a track record of accomplishment in growing start-ups, engineering business turnaround, and developing opportunities in emerging markets.
Executive Vice President, Home and Distribution Division, Schneider Electric
With a wealth of experience in foreign investment and joint venture management, YiFu has taken on roles in institutional transformation, marketing, as well as the President and Vice Chairman of Delixi Electric Co., Ltd from 2012 to 2020. Prior to working at Schneider Electric, YiFu honed his modern management style while working for the China Railway Group and the China Railway Materials Corporation in the operations and marketing department. YiFu boasts a combination of business, manufacturing, and engineering acumen, as well as a deep understanding of Mainland China and international market dynamics. Born in China, YiFu holds a Bachelor’s degree in transportation engineering from the Beijing Jiaotong University. In 2000 he obtained an MBA and in 2016 an EMBA from Southwest Jiaotong University. YiFu is committed to continuing close collaboration with Schneider’s strategic partners, advocating for more widespread adoption of net-zero home technologies.
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